2.8 Summary

(1) The continually progressing world view of science, and the disciplined thinking connected with it, have clashed with and undermined the authority of religion. An unfortunate immediate effect, as this understanding spreads from a well-educated minority to society as a whole, is that the demolition of superstitions and of arbitrary dogmas has also upset the credibility and authority of the source of society's ethical values. In consequence, in Western culture[11] we are suffering some degree of what Gilbert Murray aptly described and documented, in the decay of Greek culture after Aristotle, as a "failure of nerve." Other causes economic, political, social may be contributing, but it is likely that we shall find the main root to be a confusion over values due to this collapse, combined with a failure to recognize that science is capable, in a radically new sense, of building up ethical values to replace what it has destroyed.

(2) Instead of looking to science, writers have turned in their dismay to almost every other available social institution. These we have examined as to the validity of their claims to direct progress beginning with Rationalism and other philosophical approaches, from Plato and Aristotle, to the specific modern flowering in Voltaire, Condorcet, Paine and Rousseau, and so to contemporaries. Reason in the abstract is more effective in demolition than construction. Rationalism, e.g., in Locke and Montesquieu, sufficed to clean the site. But the scientific assumptions about human nature and social mechanisms, e.g., that man is inherently good and that education can make him politically wise, or that rational intentions can alone abolish wars, poverty and injustice, were crude and unrealistic.

A modern writer, equally fervent for the millennium (H. G. Wells, 1920, page 455), has stigmatized the encyclopedic rationalists' mistaken belief that "a sentimental and declamatory [approach]" is appropriate to deal with socio-political problems. For, in spite of their paying lip service to science (which was in any case poorly developed in biological and social areas at the heyday of the "Enlightenment"), they expected Reason alone to create new values. Reason can sometimes reveal and destroy irrationalities in existing systems. But too many writers on social problems still proceed as if logic without advances in human science as such, suffices. Nor do they recognize that the values in Rationalism rest on subjective, a priori, premises surreptitiously imported from the religions they seek to outmode.

(3) The Utopia-builders, such as Plato, St. Augustine, More, Bacon, Morris, Owen, Marx and Wells, and those political reformers acting as the empirical mid-wives of history, such as the Jacobins or Marx, contributed less to the creation of values than is commonly assumed. New values, if any, are with difficulty extracted from their ideal societies, whence they have to be inferred as implications of political and other concrete rules. Mainly, however, they quite ingenuously imported with the status of axioms what they considered to be universal human values. These were commonly the unrecognized fragments from universalistic, revealed religions. This is why Communism, for example, has correctly been designated as one of several possible Christian heresies.

(4) The current tendency to turn to the social sciences for solution to social problems, though healthy in intent, is vitiated not merely by their crudity as sciences, which will pass, but by their systematically intermixing and confounding scientific chains of argument with unconsciously or naively introduced moral value judgments. The latter is a far more serious and dangerous defect. Remedying this defect requires explicit recognition of the problem and an agreement either explicitly to bring in revealed, dogmatic values or to take the step of seeking afresh for purely scientifically derivable values.

(5) If we are right in the argument beginning in the next chapter that science is itself capable of deriving moral values it may yet take years of brilliant and patient research to reach methodologically sound conclusions. During that time we should probably do well to lean temporarily on the ethical framework, though not the superstitions, provided by the deepest convictions of revealed religious authority. But this consent to an expediency is very different from deliberately maintaining that the truths of science and the inspirations of religion genuinely belong to the same method of truth-seeking, and are capable of amalgamation. For in the long run the alloy is a treacherous one.

(6) For reasons largely beyond our present inquiry, many great scientists and leading philosophers, while recognizing that these methods are different, have been content to proceed with a duality constituted by scientific empirical truth about nature and by intuitive, traditional religious truth about ethics. Still larger fractions of men engaged in political and public affairs, and of ordinary men in their everyday lives, consider it practical to accept the same basic inconsistency of origins. Ultimately this practice has consequences, however, as dangerous as those which spring from inconsistencies in other realms of experience, a fact which is becoming increasingly evident in some current deteriorations of morale. Although the difficulties are very great, we have to voyage in search of a new scientific, i.e., combined rational and empirical basis for finding ethical values which is uniform with our scientific procedure in understanding nature generally.

(7) Meanwhile, confusion is breeding a serious degree of social alienation which, from a glance at history, e.g., at the times of Diogenes and the Cynics, we know can be mortally dangerous. In one part of society we see a group with a growing loss of any sense of social obligation, a tendency to justify this indifference by condemning society, and a denial of moral values. In the more established part of society we meet an abdicating authority, avoiding conflict and (as Malraux (1949) perceived early after World War II) "doubting its own credentials." Without new sources of knowledge we do not know what progress really is and what values are sound. But having in these two chapters examined the available varieties and sources of knowledge, and the effects of following some of them, we can more confidently organize ourselves for the search for values.

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